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How to spot fallacies in our thinking?


We take pride in our intelligence as humans. We assume, whatever thoughts come to us come from the source of intelligence within us. In the thick of things, some fallacies come from the mind and not our intelligence. These create a mistaken "inference" removed far away from the experience that created the fallacy in the first place.

Fallacies in inference can enable or disable us. It's important to be aware of at least where they disable us. This will help build resilience when operating in the world.

Some of the common inferences/fallacies (Beautifully explained in Nyaya Sastra, The Indian Science of Logic as Hetvabhasa & also also in Aristotle's work 'Sophistical Refutations' ) that I find while coaching oneself and others are listed below. They help us spot our fallacies in thinking.

1.Generalisation made on limited data / experience / knowledge / blind-spots:


For eg:

All Introverts don't like to network. [Could be true, needs to be ascertained] Only people who network grow in their career. [ Counter-examples ignored ] So I, being an introvert can't grow. [ Wrong inference based on partial validity ] So I am forever stuck. [Meaning on the inference] I am forced to change. [Deduction on the meaning ] The world is not fair [ Second deduction ] We all live in an unfair world [Third deduction]

When you are stuck, it pays to write down the actual experience that creates your deduction and then walk your way through your thoughts.

2. Ad hominem/ Mis-use of person's trait/background instead of logic

personality trait

For eg:

My boss is not a great leader because he joined us from outside and not home grown.

He comes in the way of my growth. [ Meaning ]

I can do nothing about it. [Deduction/limiting belief]

Someone's boss can be a bad leader for various logical reasons such as beliefs, behaviour and actions but not because they come from a different background. This may or may not have contributed to their behaviour. While one cannot change the background, one can work with the boss to alter behaviour through feed-forwards.

3. Red-herring / Changing the subject by introducing a tangential reference

red herring

For eg:

Coach: What comes in the way of you listening to your team?

Client: I don't know. You know in my previous role, I was called the "Best Manager".

Notice that the answer is not corresponding to the question. This is generally seen when people have resistance to change one-self. They also have a hard time looking at their flaws.

4. Slippery Slope/ Crap talk inference


For eg:

If I show empathy to one team member, all others will feel that I am partial. If they think I am partial, they will not like to work for me. If they don't like to work for me, the performance of this team will dip and I can't deliver.

The first wrong inference here leads to a series of wrong inference and leads to a no choice situation.

5. Popular or bandwagon inference


Coach: What makes you look for a change?

Client: Obviously everybody does it.

Here the inference is made by popular opinion instead of personal readiness for a change.

These are just a few of the fallacies that create our internal mind game. They appear as true but will disappear once we chose to question them to find the truth.

What is your favourite fallacy? How did you become aware of it?

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